In the first bust of commercial fishermen for poaching abalone since the shell-residing mollusk was protected in Southern California 15 years ago, four men were caught with four abalone on an urchin diving boat in the Santa Barbara Harbor the day before Thanksgiving. Three of the men, John Bolton, Robert Laumer, and David Abernathy, were registered as urchin fishermen from Santa Barbara, while the fourth, Richard Gallo from New York, was not a licensed fishermen but is still implicated in the charges, which are now being considered by the Santa Barbara District Attorney.
The booty was likely harvested from the seas around San Miguel Island, which is the epicenter of the species' comeback after decades of overfishing and disease nearly wiped it out of the region completely. To help save the species, the state banned any take of abalone — whether the red, black, pink, or white varieties — in 1997 for waters south of San Francisco Bay, and only allowed red abalone to be harvested seasonally to the north. While sport divers are occasionally caught with illicit abs (usually for violations of size, quantity, and methods in Northern California), commercial fishermen have kept their hands clean, until now.
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